I can’t believe I have put off writing about European hockey for this long. Perhaps part of the reason is the fact that I am in denial of the NHL lockout. However, I am lucky to have gone to many KHL and Czech Extraliga games in Prague and I plan on going to many more. I need to get my fill of hockey before I get home.
Prague has three hockey teams. Two teams, Sparta Praha and Slavia Praha are part of the Czech Extraliga, playing solely Czech teams. I believe the Prague fans are split down the middle even though historically Sparta has been the better team (though this year they are last in their league). Slavia plays in the O2 arena, your typical giant multipurpose venue, akin to the Verizon Center. Sparta plays in the Tipsport arena from the Soviet era. I like that arena better. The bench seating and small arena make the game much more intimate. Sparta is also home to the Washington Capital’s goalie Michal Neuvirth, who is currently playing with them during the NHL lockout.
It’s great to see him in his home country, and it’s a little bit of home for me too.
Prague is also the new home to Lev Praha, the KHL team. Lev switches between arenas and has quite a fan section already. If you need a description of Czech sports fans, please refer to my blog about the soccer game. Hockey fans are that crazy, if not more. However, Prague’s KHL team is also very controversial. Many Czech fans don’t want the Russian owned KHL here due to their history with Russia and the lingering anti-soviet sentiment. I’m happy to have it for more hockey!
Lev has two NHL players, Zdeno Chara of the Boston Bruins and Jakub Voracek of the Philadelphia Flyers. I love watching Chara play. He is huge – 6 foot 9 inches without skates and 255 pounds of pure muscle. During the 2012 NHL skills competition he clocked the fastest slapshot at 106 miles per hour. He is not only a beast on the ice, but he is an incredible player. Plus, he hi-fived me! I’ve also seen Alexander Ovechkin and Pavel Datsyuk play on away teams visiting Prague.
Chara can't stand up straight
It’s very interesting to see the difference between the NHL, Czech Extraliga, and KHL playing styles. I won’t bore you non-hockey fans but here are three main differences. 1. No fighting. Any scrap is stopped by the refs at once. This is probably for the best, because the historical bench clearing brawls in the KHL have ended many a career. 2. Pulling the goalie in a delayed penalty. This seems like a smart move, and I think the NHL should look into this strategy. When a delayed penalty is called, the play is immediately stopped as soon as the puck changes hands. Therefore, the team with puck possession can pull their goalie, add a man to the ice, and not worry about the other team stealing and scoring. This happens quite often here, but I have rarely seen it in the NHL. 3. Rare cross checking penalties. I have seen some pretty brutal and obvious cross checks here, and the refs rarely call the penalty. I guess without hard checks and fighting this is the last legal form of violence.
Hanging with the Sparta mascot
I’m trying to get my hockey fix in before December. I’ve become passionate about the Prague teams and I can’t wait to watch them in the championships in the spring. Hopefully by then, I’ll at least have the NHL to watch!